Tag Archives: FaceBook

Facebook, Google, Apple and thoughts on the road

In case you haven’t noticed I haven’t been very faithful with posts here lately. That’s because my wife and I enjoyed a nearly three week road trip. We drove the country coast to coast from our home north of Seattle to Charleston and Orlando for speaking engagements, then back home again. We saw 23 states and weather ranging from snow to blistering heat to a dark, scary thunderstorm in San Antonio. We survived an fire alarm in a hotel that had us standing on the street for an hour surrounded by fire trucks and survived a scary near-accident. We drove in comfort and economy enjoying our new Lexus CT200h with its 42 mpg zippyness.

Home again and time to turn thoughts to what is going on in the world of crisis communication and PR. There is much of course. Still a lot about Bin Laden, about social media in emergencies particularly in Japan, and then there is the Facebook, Google and Burson Marsteller fiasco.

First, having met and listened to Mr. Burson give a presentation a couple of years ago I really feel for him. It would be a shame if his reputation earned by a lifetime of stellar service and modeling of public relations built on integrity would be sullied by this event. Somehow I can’t help feeling there is more to this story than what we are seeing.

Clearly the fact that they were unwilling to divulge their client is a serious ethical problem. It’s hard for me to understand how two apparently savvy professionals thought they could manipulate coverage while hiding the company paying them. What else is hard for me to figure out in this is that Facebook fired them. Sure, like Chrysler its the safe way of distancing yourself from a contractor when the contractor screws up. However, as this Wired article points out, Facebook cannot come out of this looking like the victim. My question is issues like privacy and security are pretty technical and the “information” about Google’s supposed privacy problems had to come from Facebook. So the two PR pros end up looking duped by Facebook into thinking there was a problem there when apparently there really wasn’t. So, the Burson Marsteller staffers look to be the victims of Facebook manipulation rather than the perpetrators.

Regardless of what lies behind this sordid affair, the lessons are too obvious. It comes back down to the basic issues of transparency and honesty. If what you are doing cannot stand the full light of day, then you better ask yourself what your life will look like when it does come into the full light of day. I kind of hate to think that the fear of getting caught is a motivator for right and ethical behavior but I’d rather it be that way than to rely entirely on the moral character. Somehow, that seems to keep failing us.

But, I do think there is a deeper issue here. Apple has recently come under attack for storing users location information on iphone and ipads. When asked for a comment about this I noted that technology providers today face a bit of a dilemma related to using data generated by their customers. On the one hand, all that information provides a basis for some of the most powerful technologies–technologies that we benefit from and are essential in winning the high stakes innovation game. But often those advances depend on mining the ever increasing stream of data that is being created.

I benefited greatly from the navigation system in my CT200h including the warnings that would frequently come up about heavy traffic on my route or an accident up ahead creating stop and go traffic. How do they know that stuff? How can systems know traffic status on essentially all major streets and freeways across the nation? In this case, they must be tapping into data sources provided by state’s departments of transportation. When you start thinking of all the possible uses for the data being generated by the billions of people using smartphones and pad computers it is truly mind-boggling. This issue of collecting, mining, and applying that data for useful purposes will not quickly go away.

Prediction–there will be many more battles about privacy, security and application of user generated information to come. It’s a tricky road for technology providers and ultimately users will have to decide how much they are willing to share and what they will give up by limiting access.


Trolling, toxic talk and the challenges of transparency

Thanks to Dave Statter of statter911 who alerted me to this outstanding op-ed piece in NYT by Facebooks’ design manager Julie Zhuo about the challenges the tech community faces regarding trolls. Trolls are those mean, nasty horrible creatures that lurk around seeing who they can attack with their slobbering, venomous mouths. In this case, they don’t lurk under bridges and pathways, but they lurk around blogs, news sites and websites, contaminating almost every conversation with their toxic expressions. Yes, you’re right, I don’t like them very much and have written about them a fair amount here under the topic of toxic talk. I think they are a significant contributor to the decline of public trust and the disagreeable atmosphere surrounding much of our public discourse.

As Julie points out, a primary cause for this is anonymity. People will do all kinds of things when their identity is unknown and unknowable that they wouldn’t think about doing otherwise. The Greek philosophers certainly understood this. Trolling, like many evil deeds, would be seriously decreased by making it illegal to reveal who you really are.

But, that runs smack into a primary ethos of the internet. The internet crowd really likes this anonymity and I suspect a great majority of them would fight hard to protect it. And I for one do not believe there is or should be a legal or legislative solution to every problem that plagues us. If that is the way, soon our only problems will be legal and legislative ones and sometimes I’m not too sure we aren’t there already. I just think it is quite ironic that the internet ethos of anonymity runs smack dab into that other high value of the internet culture–transparency. How can you demand transparency from anyone and everyone, while hiding behind anonymity? Yet, that seems to be the value system at work.

Speaking of transparency, and speaking as one who has proclaimed its virtues loudly and tried to help organization leaders understand its urgency and demands, we are now seeing some of the dangers and challenges of transparency. I am referring, of course, to wikileaks and the widespread publication of classified war documents and now diplomatic messages. I have little doubt that those subscribing to the internet ethos, as I am referring to it, are largely applauding the release of these documents and looking to nominate Julian Assange, wikileaks founder, for a Nobel prize. Part of me wants to join in the applause but there is also that part of me that says there are some times when secrets are necessary.

The dilemma inherent in this struggle against transparency versus other competing values and interests–including the lives of people and security of the nation–is evidenced in the New York Times explanation of its decision to publish most of the leaked documents. Wikileaks creates a huge dilemma for responsible news organizations like the New York Times. Refuse to publish and they not only lose out on all that web traffic and public interest, but they look like digital content Luddites. Publish it all, and they fall right into the reasonable accusation of not caring about anything other than their ratings or readers. Personally, I think they did a pretty good job of walking this tightrope with this explanation. Still, it makes you wonder a bit when they make a point of pointing out that they did not necessarily agree with the Obama administration’s opinion about publishing all documents and so are making themselves the arbiters of national security questions rather than leaving that to the government. I guess so it has always been, but this seems to be on a whole new level.

What seems clear in all of this is that transparency is not an unmitigated good–as even the most adamant of internet freedom protectors would agree. If they did agree that transparency was the ultimate good then they above all would demand an end to anonymity on the web. So, both individual members of society, like the publisher of the NYT and society as a whole will continue to struggle with finding the right balance between transparency and protection. It will be interesting to see how this will play out in the field of conflicting values. What is certain for crisis communication is that any effort to restrict information without clear and compelling justification will be met with hoots and howls from the media and the social media crowd alike. All the more for the trolls to slobber over.

Facebook used instead of 9-1-1? New worries for first responders

I just returned from speaking to the Kansas Emergency Management Association conference. It was a real treat talking with a group of dedicated emergency managers at the state, city and county levels. One of the issues we discussed was the liability and public expectations around using social media such as Twitter or Facebook to request assistance. Liability may be a big concern but so is public expectation. What happens when using these two becomes second nature to people, particularly young people, and they believe that when you are in trouble you can call for help using Twitter or Facebook?

Then, getting back to the office, I was referred to this story out of Australia. Two young girls, ages 10 and 12 were caught in a drain. Fortunately they had a mobile phone with them. Unfortunately, the decided to use that mobile phone to text a message to their Facebook page instead of using it to dial Triple Zero, the Australian equivalent of 9-1-1. Fortunately, some of their friends on Facebook saw their cry for help. And fortunately, they remembered that a mobile phone is for more than texting and dialed the fire service who responded and rescued the girls. Unfortunately, this may become a trend and it is worrying the Australian authorities as it ought to be worrying all response organizations/

The story on C-Net says: Since emergency services are only available by dialing Triple Zero, the firefighters couldn’t have known the girls were in the drain until someone called. The organization is even more concerned that contacting social networks, rather than dialing Triple Zero, will become a trend.

This is the same issue the Coast Guard raised earlier and I commented on in this blog. Some are dealing with this by making it clear that their Twitter page or Facebook page is not to be used for emergency calls. LAFD’s Twitter page says Call 9-1-1 to report an emergency. However, this doesn’t change the fact that when more and more people are living their lives on social media sites and using text to communicate to anyone and everyone they care about, it won’t even occur to them to use what they are told to use. Ultimately, it is public expectations and demands that will win. As challenging as it sounds I am coming to think that response agencies are going to have to figure out how to deal with this new reality.